Baptism by fire

New men’s soccer coach earns first win Saturday, but Gaels come up short Sunday

Gaels’ midfielder Steve Irish goes airborne against Trent’s Andrew Knapp in Saturday’s season-opener at Richardson Stadium. Queen’s won 2-1.
Gaels’ midfielder Steve Irish goes airborne against Trent’s Andrew Knapp in Saturday’s season-opener at Richardson Stadium. Queen’s won 2-1.

This weekend was a baptism by fire for new Queen’s men’s soccer head coach Carlo Cannovan and his team, who opened their regular-season campaign Saturday at Richardson Stadium with a 2-1 victory over the Trent Excalibur.

Cannovan took over from Chris Gencarelli in early August, and said he faced a steep learning curve in trying to find the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Unfortunately I came in here not knowing who anyone was, not knowing who the strengths were, not knowing what the weaknesses in the team were,” he said after the Trent match. “Every face was a new face to me, so it was a tough training camp, physically demanding because I had to see what we had.”

Before coming to Queen’s, Cannovan served as the head coach of the Ontario provincial U-14 team for five years and led them in competitions against European and South American teams. He has also worked as the technical director of the Kingston United Soccer Club and as a staff coach with the Ontario Soccer Association. Cannovan said moving to the CIS has forced him to make some significant changes to his coaching tactics.

“This is more direct, more physical,” he said. “The ball’s in the air more, and it’s just a lot more fast-paced. I’m used to the ball being on the ground and keeping possession of the ball.”

On Saturday, the Gaels went on the attack from the opening whistle. Their efforts were rewarded 10 minutes in when new midfielder Graeme Webber headed a long throw from third-year defender Andrew Nador past Excalibur keeper Navi Sidhu.

Second-year striker Dan McBride added to the Gaels’ lead with another header off a Nador cross in the 19th minute. Trent created little pressure and chose to stay on the defensive even after they fell behind.

Cannovan said he was pleased with his squad’s first-half effort.

“I thought we had a good first half,” he said. “We knew what to expect. We knew that they were not going to come out to play, we knew that they were going to come out to hold, so we had a game plan to keep possession of the ball and look for our chances in the attacking third.”

The Gaels’ second-half play was not as strong. Trent pulled within one with a late goal in the 73rd minute, but the Gaels were able to hang on for the win.

Cannovan said the focus for the Gaels going forward will be improved play on set pieces, such as free kicks, throw-ins and corner kicks.

“We’ve got a great weapon in young Nador with his throws and we’ve got the ability with some boys who can strike a good ball in the attacking third,” he said. “We’re just going to have to make sure that we finish on our set pieces, and that’s something we’re going to really work on.”

Nador said he’s hoping to be able to make more use of his long throw this year.

“I’ve had it for a while, but I didn’t get to use it as much as I would have liked in the past few years,” he said.

Nador said the team could still improve its finishing, though. The Gaels recorded 13 shots on target and earned six corner kicks, but could only notch two goals.

“We had probably a few chances we could have put away,” he said.

Webber, who transferred to Queen’s from Cornell University, said CIS soccer isn’t far removed from NCAA Division I play.

“Down there, it’s a bit more physical,” he said. “There’s a bit more money in it, so there’s a bit more time for weights and that kind of stuff, but for the most part, it’s pretty similar. … The technique is the same level, really.”

Webber said he wasn’t expecting to score in his first appearance for Queen’s, as he has usually played a more defensive role.

“It was perhaps a bit of a shock to get it right off the bat, as I hadn’t scored in about five years,” he said. “It felt great. I was loving it.”

The weekend went downhill for Webber and the Gaels on Sunday, though, when they lost 3-2 on the road to the defending regular-season OUA champion Carleton Ravens. It was the Ravens’ 28th-straight regular-season win.

Midfielder Mike Arnold recorded both of Queen’s goals Sunday, while Carleton earned their first two goals on penalty kicks by Matt D’Angelo and Roberto Gutierrez. Their third goal was scored by Peter Mangiras.

The team’s loss to Carleton Sunday leaves them with a 1-1 record, fourth-best in the OUA East Division. They’ll travel to North Bay and Sudbury this weekend to face the Nipissing Lakers and the Laurentian Voyageurs.

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